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We’re wrapping the live updates a little early tonight to steel ourselves for that. You have a good night, and we’ll see you in the morning.
19:11 – And said newsletter is now out! With major props to my colleague Megan Miskiman for her detailed first-hand account of this wildfire season’s effect on mental health.
18:13 – Doing it. Having another coffee. Hey, our newsletter is coming out this evening, you should get on the list.
18:01 – From Emily: If you’re a northern healthcare worker, maybe remember where you parked. The NWT’s health authority said some staff may be asked to leave their cars in the south and fly back to help restart services.
17:40 – This is not especially wildfire-related but I’ve just seen the Fort Nelson News is closing after 64 years in business.
“This comes as a result of the worldwide trend embracing social media and the internet in all its forms, as well as the slump in local business activity, which has aggravated the situation over the years,” the paper’s owner apparently stated in a notice.
Cabin Radio is only here because of your generosity as a reader and the help of the NWT’s business community. Thank you from everyone here for keeping us going. We know it’s a rough world out there for a lot of media outlets and I’m sorry to hear the Fort Nelson News is gone.
17:24 – This just came from Northwestel, in case this is useful for any other customer:
“During this difficult time, rest assured that you will receive an automatic credit for your Northwestel services, as well as for any late fees accumulated during the period of the official evacuation order. You will still receive an invoice, as we bill one month in advance.
“Once the evacuation order is lifted, a credit will be applied. No action is required on your part, so you can focus on what matters most right now.”
17:17 – The press conference Q&A wraps up with a question about healthcare workers asked to fly back and leave their cars behind – stand by for more on that from Emily in a full report.
Premier Caroline Cochrane says she “understands the frustrations” of evacuees and says “we are working as hard as we can with our partners to make sure our evacuee residents receive the supports they need.”
She concludes: “I know it’s hard. I know we all want to answers. But again I need to stress, please be patient. We’re going to get you back as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
17:13 – Mike Westwick: “We’re pretty good at getting in there and building a strong perimeter around communities. We’ve got some better weather starting Sunday and you’d best believe we’ll be using every opportunity that we have to get in there … and we’re going to get folks home in these areas, safe. That’s our number-one goal.” He says crews are committed to making sure that happens “a long time before the snow falls.”
17:12 – Mayor of Hay River Kandis Jameson: “My heart stopped when I heard ‘the snow flies.’ I’d be happy if the snow started flying tomorrow. There is no predicting what is going to come at us or what is going to happen. I urge people to be patient.”
17:11 – How likely is it that Hay River and Fort Smith evacuees won’t be able to go home until the snow falls?
“I think that’s a hypothetical,” says Jay Boast. “To try to predict if it won’t be safe until the snow flies is a very difficult question … We understand that people want a sense of when they will be home and that’s why we’re doing the work we’re doing, we’re starting preparing registrations for flights and looking into the practicalities of the return on highways. But the big question mark that always remains is what is the weather going to do and what is the fire activity going to do, and how is it going to impact the plans we’re making?”
17:07 – On the subject of resources to fight the Hay River fire: “We did have some help from New Zealand come in, and we have some more help on the way from places like Quebec in the coming days,” says Mike Westwick. “We did see some additional heavy equipment and we are working our darnedest to get a couple more helicopters in here from the Yellowknife incident, but these extraordinary smoke conditions that we’re seeing on the flight path have been challenging.”
Asked if the military will head back into Hay River, spokesperson Maj Bonnie Wilken says: “We are not trained firefighters … we work under the direction of the wildland fire officials that are actual firefighters and experts in this. In terms of where CAF are right now, we have members that are working in the Yellowknife area, and right now the plan is to continue on with that until we are told something different.”
Westwick says the Yellowknife fires are places where the Type II and Type III firefighters supplied by the military can be much more useful, given they are not trained to directly attack fire, compared to Hay River.
16:59 – Wawzonek says she doesn’t know how many travel subsidy deposits have been made to evacuees’ accounts yet. She forecasts a “rolling wave” of deposits in the next few days. (Did you get yours? Let me know. And in particular, I’m fascinated to hear if any Fort Smith evacuees do get the full $1,150 – payment for both the Hay River evacuation, then the Alberta evacuation – that the GNWT now says they shouldn’t get. Don’t worry, I won’t rat you out.)
16:55 – “There is not a specific program” for commercial air ticket reimbursement, Caroline Wawzonek reiterates (we covered this yesterday).
Wawzonek makes a point that I think has been lost a bit: the travel payments are meant to help pay for your travel back, rather than being compensation for your travel out. (I really don’t think that is how many, if any evacuees are interpreting those payments, but the minister has, in fairness to her, said as much throughout.)
16:52 – Jay Boast says the logistics of getting everyone back are “not easy.” (Again, we have Jay and Mike live on our morning show at 8am tomorrow and I’m going to see if we can walk through, in general terms, what people ought to be expecting for their journey home – not dates, necessarily, but just the practical side of it. Trip planning, essentially.)
16:48 – Why can’t we fly all the essential workers in? Mayor Rebecca Alty says in part because the highway isn’t just going to be closed for people, it’ll be closed for all the supplies they need, too. (The city has previously said it doesn’t want to bring back more people than it can safely sustain in a “bare bones” approach.)
16:47 – ECE is conducting “essentially an expression of interest” to bring back childcare providers.
16:45 – How is the city deciding which services and businesses are essential and which aren’t?
Sheila Bassi-Kellett lists pharmacy, transportation, taxis and transit, water, sewer and solid waste, the airport, utilities, fuel, groceries, daycare and childcare.
“We need to make sure we have the immediate services for people.”
16:42 – Emily asks what kind of review will take place into the loss of most of Enterprise to a wildfire.
Shane Thompson: “Like any fire season, we do an investigation. We look at it. We see what could have been done better, what could not be done better. We’re also looking at our approach to all fires across the Northwest Territories, so it’s not going to singularly focus on Enterprise – it’s going to focus on all of them, and Enterprise is part of that process.”
Mike Westwick: “There were forecasts of a 50 km/h. We actually experienced wind that was more like 70 to 80 km/h. That fire more than doubled the amount of the maximum amount of distance that we believed it could travel.”
16:39 – Westwick is back, pointing out that the smoke has been crazy lately and a convoy is going to (I’m paraphrasing to an extraordinary level here) just be a 50-car pileup unless you’re all stunt drivers.
16:38 – Mike Westwick jumps in to point out that the South Slave wildfires over the next few days are likely to be blown toward Highway 1. There’s a bit of a “no-convoy” message going on there.
Oh and look, here’s the next question from True North FM and it’s about the convoy! RCMP say it’s a “potential convoy” that “may try and come up here,” and they have “no information to suggest that has materialized as anything real.”
I know, I know, you all wanted more convoy memes, but the convoy forecast is minimal.
16:35 – Into the questions. CBC’s Juanita Taylor asks what the territory is doing to address the “influx of people” that’ll need to make the two-day journey, regarding things like gas and accommodation.
Jay Boast answers: “Everyone has to take care of their level of responsibility. We want to make sure the highways are safe, we want to make sure there is an orderly progression. In terms of things like gas and the travel home, we will be asking people to do significant planning for that trip, to make sure they are prepared for what they need. We will be putting out some advice and guidance about that trip home.”
Taylor asks if there’ll be tankers along the highway.
The Department of Infrastructure says: “We have a plan in place. It’s changing, and we’re working on the plan. We’re going to make sure there is fuel at gas stations and extra tankers there.
“We’re looking at 15 porta-potties being set up, controllers on the Deh Cho Bridge to keep traffic flowing, tow trucks. It’s an ever-changing plan.”
16:31 – Westwick says there has been “really good progress” in Yellowknife, particularly on the “northern finger” of ZF015. (We’ve been giving that fire the northern finger for weeks now.)
16:30 – Westwick says Fort Smith faces “similar risks” to Hay River tomorrow.
16:29 – Mike Westwick expects “the tides to change” in Hay River tomorrow, again referring to this “extreme wind event” that is set to sweep through the South Slave (and, to an extent, Yellowknife).
The fire outside Hay River could be pushed more than 20 km east toward the intersections of Highways 5 and 6, Westwick says.
16:28 – A scrap of news for people who’ll need flights home, from Jay Boast: “We are working on a flight registration process for those who will be flying home. You can expect to hear more details in the days to come.”
Also of note: “If evacuees have registered through an Alberta or Manitoba evacuation centre and are being accommodated in a hotel, arrangements have been made to extend your stay.”
And Boast also explains a little more about the Disaster Assistance Policy that Thompson just mentioned (it’s the one that has been used for flood-hit communities in the past): “Before you can register for the Disaster Assistance Policy, note it applies if a wildfire caused damage to your primary residences or belongings, you are an NWT resident, and if your insurance does not cover costs related to restoring essential items and property.”
16:24 – GNWT Emergency Management Organization spokesperson Jay Boast says the GNWT is using the “pause” in Yellowknife’s re-entry to “look at the issues and ensure that we prioritize everyone’s safety.”
Boast also says a “family reunification process” is coming that will create a kind of evacuee database. You can call a number, get someone to search a database and use that to reunite with family if you’re having trouble finding them, is my understanding of what that’ll be. (He alludes to the obvious privacy considerations there and says they’ll be respected.)
16:22 – Mayor Kandis Jameson gives a heartfelt thank-you to everyone working on behalf of Hay River, which will face some of the greatest threats from forecast high winds in the coming 48 hours.
16:20 – After Chief Sangris calls for action to “expedite the safe return of all evacuated members of Yellowknife,” there is a slightly awkward shift in sentiment to Mayor Rebecca Alty delivering the “once it’s safe, we’ll get this going” messaging.
“Once we have a new date for phase five, we look forward to announcing it,” says the mayor, triggering a mad scramble of people trying to remember which phase that was.
16:17 – Chief Edward Sangris is describing the “dire situation” some people find themselves in, the financial aspect of which my colleague Simona covered in detail this morning. Chief Sangris is also discussing the cultural consequences of displacement, though, which is a separate dimension.
“The urgency of our situation cannot be overstated,” he says. “Every day our members remain displaced is another day of uncertainty, hardship and emotional turmoil.”
Chief Sangris says: “We cannot and must not delay any further the return of the Yellowknives Dene to their rightful home.”
16:15 – I note with interest that not only has the CBC started a live blog of this press conference, but it’s being written by my girlfriend from within the same bloody building as me.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, dear.
16:14 – What the heck does applying the disaster assistance policy mean? We’ll get into that later. I’ll probably ask that on tomorrow morning’s live show, from 8am on Friday (the link will be on Friday’s live page), when we’ll have the GNWT’s Jay Boast and NWT Fire’s Mike Westwick with us live.
16:12 – Shane Thompson says the GNWT will apply its disaster assistance policy in communities where “widespread property or infrastructure damage has been experienced and recovery efforts are required.”
He lists Behchokǫ̀, Enterprise, Fort Smith, Hay River, KFN, Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndılǫ, Jean Marie River, Kakisa, Wekweètì, Sambaa K’e and “potentially the Ingraham Trail.”
16:09 – There are 19 experts available for the Q&A, each of them quietly whispering under their breath: “Phase three… phase three… wait, do I mean stage three?”
16:07 – It’s a busy press conference. We’re going to get at least seven separate people making statements, plus the Q&A. (Emily is our reporter on the call for questioning purposes.)
16:06 – This time, the meeting starts without a journalist swearing loudly, which is an improvement, but someone somewhere is playing a drum kit. Great.
16:04 – (It hadn’t occurred to me till now that it’s feasible they could, one day, just forget to let in both Cabin Radio and the CBC.)
16:03 – These things virtually never start on time, so I have to go and watch the CBC stream’s “coming up” screen just to convince myself the Teams meeting hasn’t already started and they forgot to let me in.
15:59 – While we await the start of this latest hour of inspiration for future memes, an update from Fort Smith courtesy of Sarah: Town leaders and residents expressed disappointment as the GNWT backtracked on evacuation payment amounts, but the local MLA saw it differently.
15:57 – Hello! This is Ollie. It is almost press conference time, which is like business time but less funny.
15:16 – Fort Smith’s state of emergency has been extended until September 8, 2023 and will be updated weekly as the situation continues.
14:54 – It was very smoky and foggy in Fort Smith this morning. Town councillor Dana Fergusson, who snapped this photo, wrote on Facebook that the fog was so dense at 6am she couldn’t even see to the front of her truck.
14:07 – NWT Fire has confirmed an NNSL report that two people received “minor injuries” four days ago in an “incident involving treefall” while fighting the Hay River fire.
“We have been in regular contact and they are doing well,” NWT Fire’s Mike Westwick said by email. The GNWT and WSCC are investigating what happened.
“Safety is paramount in our work, and we take any incident that occurs extremely seriously,” Westwick wrote. “All of this underlines the hazards involved in wildfire operations, and we will take lessons from the investigation and apply them to our operations.”
A firefighter passed away earlier this summer after being hit by a falling tree while fighting a fire outside Fort Liard. Adam Yeadon, who was 25, left behind a partner and a young child. A scholarship has since been created in his memory.
13:41 – The rain might just be easing off enough for a dog walk here in Fort Simpson, so this is Ollie sending you back to Sarah in Calgary. Don’t forget the 4pm press conference coming up.
13:33 – The general picture from firefighting authorities is that today is calm, and tomorrow assuredly will not be.
Here’s the Firms satellite view right now, the last pass by the satellite having been about 20 minutes ago. Yellow markers are older hotspots, red are newer.
13:06 – As will be apparent from the below, Friday is going to be a key day for various NWT communities. We’ll have live updates all through the day, of course, and into the evening, when the peak burn time ordinarily arrives.
12:37 – NWT Fire’s latest on the fires around Yellowknife:
“The calm before the storm today – literally. Winds continue to slacken off over the complex today, with light wind conditions persisting into the evening. Temperatures are lowering, hitting 22C today, but that is still about 8C hotter than the seasonal average. There is a chance for a few scatter showers overnight, but it could also bring the chance of thundershowers and lightning.
“Friday, an extreme wind event will begin, with a low pressure system forming north of Great Slave Lake and intensifying rapidly. Winds will begin increasing after midnight tonight, to become gusty from the southwest on Friday morning. Winds will continue to increase through the morning and afternoon, with gusts in the 40-50 km/h range.
“When the centre of the low passes to the east, the gradient will become even stronger with the winds turning toward the west-northwest and gusting in the 50-55 km/h range. There is potential for gusts of 60 km/h-plus into the later evening.
“Combined with the continuing unseasonably hot temperatures, this is expected to increase fire activity and put pressure on our crews and defences.”
12:35 – The latest messaging from NWT Fire on the threat in and east of Hay River posed by tomorrow’s weather forecast:
“Friday has the potential to be a very challenging day of firefighting with hot, dry conditions and winds from the south-southwest, southwest, and west reaching up to 25 km/h, gusting up to 50-60 km/h during the day.
“This would cause significant growth of the fire to the east. There is potential for upwards of 20-km eastward spread along Highway 5 towards the Highway 5/6 junction under these conditions. Our firefighting efforts are focused on preparing for this event to keep the community and things people care about safe.”
12:27 – Today’s GNWT press conference is at 4pm. I know some people were caught out by the time change earlier this week (we nearly were, too).
12:21 – If you’re a Fort Smith resident interested to hear more about the territorial government’s changing guidance on how much evacuee travel money you get – stand by. Sarah has an update in the works. I’ve just listened to one of the interviews for that update and, well, it was lively.
“Today, temperatures are expected to reach 24C with relative humidity of 45 percent and winds from the northwest 10 km/h, gusting up to 20 km/h.
“Tomorrow, the forecasted high is 26C and a relative humidity of 25-30 percent with winds from the west-southwest 20 km/h, gusting up to 50 km/h. These weather conditions could allow for extreme fire behaviour, especially if smoke isn’t present over the wildfire.
“We are preparing for potential fire growth due to anticipated strong and gusty winds. Fire personnel have spent the past two weeks creating containment lines, running high-volume sprinkler systems, equipping critical buildings with structure protection, removing trees and vegetation (fuel) between the fire’s perimeter and communities and doing FireSmart work in vital areas. The upcoming forecasted weather may challenge these measures.”
11:36 – Overnight RCMP update: One false alarm and a “suspicious person complaint” in Yellowknife, neither of which turned out to be criminal, and RCMP say there continue to be no reported break-and-enters.
In Fort Smith, smoke is still stopping officers getting in to patrol. “A permanent return of police officers to the Town of Fort Smith will be re-evaluated after the weather event predicted this coming weekend,” RCMP stated.
In Hay River, no calls for service.
11:22 – This very short clip sent to us by Yannis shows Highway 1 heading south a couple of days ago. “Definitely not a trip to be made for a mass return home,” he wrote.
11:20 – The Cabin Radio inbox is still at crisis level, by the way. If you’re writing in, we’ll try to get to you as soon as we can.
11:17 – Hello to Food Rescue Yellowknife, who just sent a shoutout to Canadian Tire staff for “helping us distribute perishable food to Yellowknife residents remaining in the city.”
“Food that was removed from the Food Rescue site (see photo) was placed in coolers at the Canadian Tire store’s checkout stations and offered freely to residents. We applaud the staff’s support and ingenuity,” Food Rescue wrote.
11:06 – The rain on the roof is at can’t-hear-yourself-think volume. Maybe these are the thunderstorms that have been mentioned as a possibility for the South Slave later.
If you visit our weather page, you can use the “rain, thunder” option (in the top-right menu on the main weather graphic) to see the expected path of storms across the territory today.
11:02 – Hello, it’s Ollie. Thunder, lightning and a whole whack of rain over Fort Simpson right now.
10:55 – Passing this live back to Ollie for a bit!
10:44 – Just in from the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment:
“The GNWT will be offering fee-based licensed early learning and child care providers from evacuated communities with 100 percent of the Child Care Fee Reduction (CCFR) subsidy for September 2023. Licensed programs that accept 100 percent of the CCFR subsidy will not charge child care fees to families and centre based programs will continue to pay their staff wages.
If families have already paid their September fees, this may look like either a reimbursement or the funds can be applied to future child care fees once the evacuation order has ended.
Please be patient with licensed programs as they work to make these arrangements away from home.”
10:38 – In a Thursday morning update, the Town of Hay River said Wednesday’s fog and smoke limited visibility and as a result only one flight got up along with 45 minutes of helicopter bucketing.
“Work continued on containing the active finger in the KFN area to eliminate the risk completely. Structural protection crews worked in the Castaways, 2 Seasons and water plant area addressing hot spots which will continue today,” said the town.
Today, a fire retardant line is also being laid down along the fire break “increase the fire protection for ember storms in the coming days.”
10:30 – A helicopter drops water on the Wood Buffalo Complex fire.
10:22 – Are you sending a kid off to school in a totally new community this week? We know some evacuees have registered children with schools in Alberta or elsewhere to make sure they have somewhere to go. If that’s you, Ollie would like to hear from you – what factors went into that decision, how easy was it to register, and how do you think your child is coping with all the disruption?
10:01 – The NWT’s chief electoral officer says voters who may have lost their homes can still consider that address their residence for the purposes of voting in the territorial election this fall.
9:55 – More from Ollie on how September 11 is no one’s re-entry date: Someone, somewhere, told some NWT evacuees they’re going home soon. It isn’t true – there’s no confirmed return date for any community yet.
9:43 – The current hotspots around Highway 1 in the South Slave, if you were wondering why the smoke is so bad in that area.
9:37 – From Ollie: If you’ve heard September 11 as a return date for any community – ignore it. There’s a lot of confusion going on.
The GNWT just extended its territorial state of emergency to September 11. That state of emergency is completely separate from any evacuation orders – the state of emergency lets the GNWT do extra things in a crisis, but the length of the state of emergency does not dictate the length of any evacuations.
Instead, what’s happening is the state of emergency has to be renewed or dropped every two weeks, by law. So the GNWT just renewed it after the first two weeks, and the date of the next renew-or-drop deadline is now September 11. The chances are it’ll be renewed until September 25 at that point – we’ll see.
But September 11 is definitely not a fixed date for anyone to go home. Maybe, in time, it might be! Maybe people in some places can go back sooner. People in other places will probably have to wait longer. We currently have no fixed return dates for any NWT community that’s currently evacuated.
8:54 – Debra Davis writes on Wednesday night, several people from Hay River and Yellowknife visited Choosing Change, an equine therapy ranch outside of Peace River.
The ranch was hosting a free, relaxing night for evacuees. Here’s Davis’ grandson, Taylor, hanging out with one of the ponies.
8:35 – Good morning from Calgary! My routine has been to make tea and then check and see if there is any new satellite imagery. Here’s what the Hay River and Enterprise area looked like yesterday – if you look closely in the top right-hand corner, you’ll spot Hay River. I can see why they need pilot trucks to guide traffic through the smoke.
8:26 – Breakfast time in Fort Simpson. This is Ollie handing over to Sarah Pruys in Calgary to take you through the morning.
8:16 – Not everything about this crisis is uniformly bad. Meet some evacuee babies, whose parents are going to have quite a tale to tell them.
8:01 – Convoys! Memes! Babies! Our video morning show is now live.
7:45 – A big, and awkward, issue to confront: what if some people decide enough is enough? What if it’s even harder, after this crisis dies down, to find workers and keep businesses open? What if people and their families simply relocate, deciding the NWT is no longer the place for them?
7:30 – Yellowknife’s evacuation, with foster families and social workers each facing daunting challenges, tested the limits of Child and Family Services. Bill Braden looked into this for us.
7:18 – This wildfire season is costing the NWT government $100 million or more, and that sense of financial crisis is trickling down to the individual level. Some evacuees told my colleague Simona they’re facing some pretty dire circumstances.
“I am very grateful for the help that I’ve received, and I’m very grateful to the people of Alberta,” said one evacuee. “But I really do think there are a ton of people like me who are falling through the cracks and who are looking at the impending date of September 1, thinking: ‘My God, what do I do?’”
7:07 – Canada Post just said it’ll offer free mail forwarding to NWT residents for up to the next year. Sign up by September 29 if you want it.
“By registering, Canada Post will be able to ship mail to a different address selected by the customer. This can be done on a short-term basis or for longer periods, even if the address is temporary,” the corporation stated.
If you’re an evacuee and have already paid for this since evacuating, you can contact Canada Post to get a refund.
6:58 – The extent to which a “Yellowknife convoy” actually exists is an open question, but the city’s mayor, taking no chances, politely asked them not to bother. Here’s what she told me last night.
6:48 – Our live video morning show is coming up at 8am. You can read yesterday’s live text updates here if you missed them or just want to relive how it feels to watch a re-entry plan and a meme account slip from your grasp in one day.
6:45 – Hello! It’s Ollie. We’re back, and there’s a lot to catch up on.